Dance: Basic Elements & Genres

Instructor: Mary Cianflone

Mary has a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Theatre & Dance History.

In this lesson, you will learn the art form known as dance. We will discuss the definition of dance, what makes up a dance, and what are some of the most popular dance forms in the United States.

What is Dance?

Dance is a form of art that uses movement of the body to express an idea, emotion, or story. When you think of dancing, you might think of just using feet or legs, but a dancer uses the entire body - arms, hands, torso, and face - to express their art. It is important to note that different parts of the world have their own popular dance forms. Some are common and can be found across the globe. For this lesson, we are going to focus on the forms that you are most likely to encounter if you take a dance class in the United States. Before we do, let's talk about the elements of a dance.

What makes a dance different from other types of sports that use the body? In other words, what makes dance an art form? In sports, the athletes are concerned with winning a game by scoring points. As long as they follow the rules, it doesn't matter how they score points, as long as they score them. One way to think about dancers is as athletes who care more about the movement of their bodies than a final score. This is where time and space come in. When a dancer travels from one side of the stage to the next, moving quickly or slowly can evoke different emotions. Often, dances will have musical accompaniment, and the speed or tempo of the music can help convey a message. Is the dancer feeling shy? How could we tell? A dancer performing in a shy way may use slow movements close to their body. Maybe he or she is also confining themselves to a small corner of the stage far from the audience. In this way, using time and space helps to create the mood of the dance.


Ballet is a type of dance that emphasizes long lines, light movement, and extended feet. It developed in France during the 17th century, which is why many terms associated with it are in French. The dancers stand upright as they move, occasionally bending at the hips or leaping across the stage. The female dancers are called ballerinas and wear pointe shoes with special padding inside that allows them to dance on their toes. The movements of ballet tend to be slower, with long sweeps of the arms and legs. Ballets are usually based on fairy tales or stories that have a beginning, middle, and end and follow a set of characters. The dancers perform as these characters and the audience watches the story unfold.



Jazz is a form of dance that developed in the early 1900s, around the same time as jazz music in the United States. People would go to night clubs to hear the fast beats and complicated improvised sounds of the jazz bands. As they danced to keep up with this type of music, jazz dance was born. As jazz dance developed into more of a performance art, it used dark-colored costumes and sensual partnering. Even when it was seen on a stage, jazz dance is marked by the atmosphere of a late-night club, with its smoky and moody feeling.

Jazz Dance
Jazz Dance

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